Sunday, August 26, 2012

Stunning Silence in Penland Community

I know that Penland sent out a memo to its mailing list saying that no victims stepped up, and John Britt is a freak!  (Think we knew that already.)  But I have sent them names and these people wrote letters yet  they still claim I am lying.

They want coordinators to step up publicly (in spite of the history of black listing).

What I find most depressing is the stunning silence by the so called Penland Community. They all write me notes behind the scene but won't speak out publicly. They all know what happens and they all know the way Penland treats employees. Many of them have worked there.  Many are still working there.

I know that some of this attitude revolves around the apprentice system of crafts in this country. Craftspeople are trained to work for someone for free or subsistence wages, in exchange for knowledge and the time necessary to develop their craft. Unfortunately that system doesn't extent to companies who hire employees.

In this community everyone is quick to stand up to support gay rights, or women's rights but worker exploitation is  just accepted as part of the training.

If people cannot see that Penland did not honor its promise to pay the workers for two years and is hiding behind legal language then I cannot convince them. But the people who can see that and know what it is like to work at Penland need to speak up.

People tell me you shouldn't try to change this - it is bad for your health. But unless someone had fought for you to get equity and equality you would not be enjoying it now. And if no one stands up today then the children of tomorrow will suffer.

I cannot do this alone so if there is anyone out there with moral compass still intact, please stand up and tell Penland publicly that they should do the right thing.

If you want change, Wade on in the Water!



8 comments:

Tracey Broome said...

John, you are not a freak, you're a great person, I have always enjoyed the time I have spent at your workshops and I salute your efforts. I often feel like I am standing on the mountaintop shouting by myself, I wish more people felt that they could speak out without being afraid of the results of their passion. Fight the good fight dude!

Amy Waller said...

You are not alone, John.

I haven't seen any Penland email. Do you know if it said anything different from the statement on their website?

You mentioned that people in the community were quick to support gay rights. One lesson I have taken to heart from working on that issue is how important it is to stand up for those who can't stand up for themselves because of their life situation, including where they work. I think you are right: people who have even the slightest connection to Penland find it very difficult to confront the institution in any way. What you are doing is important. I support you. I hope that Penland will right this wrong.

Duckpondpotter said...

I totally agree with all that you've said. I've been following along with this issue and the fact that so few people have come to support you on this has really been on my mind . I'd like to go on the record as saying Penland School lost a great part of their staff and community the day they signed off on John Britt. I don't think anybody who worked alongside you or had you as an instructor would disagree with me. Does anybody reading this have recollection of a clay coordinator at Penland (or anywhere else) as knowledgeable and fun to be around as Britt? I truly doubt it. I have a sense, however, that the clay coordinator position, like most other positions at the school, was intended by the administration only as a slot for young guns wanting to be affiliated with Penland and all too willing to put up with a year or two of abuse before moving on to other things. Unfortunately, your serious, career minded approach to the position put you at odds with their diminutive and perhaps illegal treatment of employees and this kind of conflict was probably inevitable. I think it's a sad statement that so few people in the "Penland Community" have publicly offered you the empathy you deserve for standing up to the unjust employment practices at the school. Surely, this has more to do with their own insecurities and compelling need to remain connected with the school than with any desire to shun you. A quick survey of behavior in cult organizations offers more parallels here than I care to ponder. Best of luck, John.

Nick Friedman
The Duckpond Pottery
Brevard, North Carolina
Penland School Blacklistee

nick friedman said...

I totally agree with all that you've said. I've been following along with this issue and the fact that so few people have come to support you on this has really been on my mind . I'd like to go on the record as saying Penland School lost a great part of their staff and community the day they signed off on John Britt. I don't think anybody who worked alongside you or had you as an instructor would disagree with me. Does anybody reading this have recollection of a clay coordinator at Penland (or anywhere else) as knowledgeable and fun to be around as Britt? I truly doubt it. I have a sense, however, that the clay coordinator position, like most other positions at the school, was intended by the administration only as a slot for young guns wanting to be affiliated with Penland and all too willing to put up with a year or two of abuse before moving on to other things. Unfortunately, your serious, career minded approach to the position put you at odds with their diminutive and perhaps illegal treatment of employees and this kind of conflict was probably inevitable. I think it's a sad statement that so few people in the "Penland Community" have publicly offered you the empathy you deserve for standing up to the unjust employment practices at the school. Surely, this has more to do with their own insecurities and compelling need to remain connected with the school than with any desire to shun you. A quick survey of behavior in cult organizations offers more parallels here than I care to ponder. Best of luck, John.

Nick Friedman
The Duckpond Pottery
Penland School Blacklistee


Denise Joyal said...

John,

I have no real clout, but for what it's worth, I'm supporting you. Penland needs to do what is right, it's that simple. Don't give up, I'll keep posting on your behalf.

Jeff Supplee & Martha Copp said...

John, we just sent the following to the emails you recommended in your initial post:

This is an open letter to the Penland Director, Board Members, Donors, and Community

We are deeply saddened and disturbed, but unfortunately not surprised by the Penland administration’s response to a whistleblower (the classic conservative corporate response).

Penland portrays itself as a progressive, caring, and liberal institution for artists and craftspeople, yet it has exploited the people most responsible for facilitating its arts and crafts programs. Not only is it egregious that Penland administrators violated labor laws in the first place, but it’s worse that all coordinators were not sought out and fully compensated for every hour of every year that they worked. Penland administrators have taken a legalistic approach instead of appropriately compensating all workers and apologizing to them—including the whistleblower, John Britt. This would have been a more healing and compassionate response and would have benefited everyone (notably Penland’s public image) at relatively little cost.

We were also disappointed to learn about coordinators’ low hourly wages. A handful of people—the coordinators—ran the creative programs for abysmal pay (even without considering the overtime violations). How much did the director make during this same period? The gap in pay between front-line workers and administrators should be an economic justice issue for Penland’s board to resolve if they believe Penland is a truly progressive arts and crafts institution...and not a Wal-Mart-like institution. The comparison to Wal-Mart is not a fluke—it, too, has been found guilty of wage and labor violations in the past in the name of maximizing profits.

The current Penland administration focuses heavily on fundraising, courting donors, and touting physical plant improvements. There should be a stronger focus on valuing the heart and soul of Penland, which is the amazing community of artists and craftspeople and their work. Maybe it’s time to revisit what Penland’s priorities should be for the future. Penland should set an example for how artists and craftspeople can be fairly compensated for their efforts, rather than perpetuate the stereotype that exploiting artists is OK.

Potential students and artists planning to teach at Penland should consider seeking opportunities at other crafts schools (are they doing any better?) until Penland rectifies this situation through full restitution and public apologies. Donors should likewise boycott Penland until it can justify their generous support. The rights of working artists and the Penland community spirit have been damaged by the administration’s past violations and inadequate remedy.

Jeff Supplee (former student, studio assistant, and Penland donor)
&
Martha Copp (Penland donor)

John Britt said...

Thanks ya'all

Amy Waller said...

For anyone who ended up on this page from a direct link, several more letters/emails to Penland have been shared on the main page of the Clay Club blog.